Frank-Walter Steinmeier has taken Germany’s political parties to task after talks to form a new government broke down. The German president says coalition talks must continue amidst speculation there could be a new vote. Deutsche Welle’s Jefferson Chase (Berlin) reports.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier did not announce any concrete steps in a brief statement delivered in Berlin on Monday after he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Instead he encouraged Germany’s political parties to reconsider whether they might not be able to create a working majority.
“I expect the parties to make the formation of a new government possible in the foreseeable future,” Steinmeier said, adding that the parties had a responsibility that “cannot be simply given back to the voters.”
That was a reference to fresh elections. If no majority coalition emerges, Steinmeier is bound by the German constitution to nominate a chancellor for approval by the German parliament, the Bundestag. If no stable government can be formed after three rounds of voting there, the president would have to ask Germans to return to the polls.
That’s a possibility that Steinmeier wants to avoid. Steinmeier said he would be holding talks with various leaders of the political parties in an attempt to broker an agreement.
But given the political landscape in German, such a breakthrough seems highly unlikely.
No historical precedent for this sort of impasse
The German presidency is normally a largely ceremonial office, but Steinmeier has been thrust into the spotlight after what he characterized as “an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
On Sunday evening, the pro-business, center-right Free Democratic Party FDP broke off discussions to form a three-way “Jamaica” coalition with conservatives and the Green. Party chairman Christian Lindner said,
“It’s better not to govern, than to govern wrongly.”
The other parties involved in negotiations expressed their unhappiness that the talks had failed.
“I regret, with all due respect to the FDP, that we could not come to a mutual agreement,” Merkel told reporters early on Monday morning, saying that the parties were “on a path where we could have reached an agreement.”
Merkel’s fellow conservative Horst Seehofer said that an agreement “had been in reach” before the FDP walked out. That sentiment was echoed by Green party co-chair Cem Özdemir, who said that he and his team had always shown a readiness to compromise on key issues. “However, the only possible democratic constellation was unfortunately shot down by the FDP,” he said.
Recriminations of that sort would have to be overcome, if the idea of this coalition were to be revived. That’s something most political observers regard as highly unlikely.
SPD ‘unavailable,’ pushes new elections
Another possible, but unlikely way to break the impasse would be to persuade the Social Democrats (SPD), Steinmeier’s own party, to continue the current grand coalition with Merkel’s conservatives.
But the SPD, coming off their worst-ever election result, 20.5 percent, in the history of the Federal Republic, reiterated on Monday that it intended to head into the opposition.
“In view of the results of the 24 September election, we are not available for a grand coalition,” said SPD chairman and defeated chancellor candidate Martin Schulz in Berlin on Tuesday.
Schulz said that the SPD had “no fear of fresh elections” and saw no mandate for another alliance with Merkel’s conservatives.
“The voters showed the grand coalition the red card,” Schulz said. “In such a situation, the sovereign, that is the voters, must reassess what is going on.”
Schulz refused to say whether the SPD would tolerate a possible CDU minority government, although he did say the SPD would continue to work as part of the Merkel-led acting government.
Far-right populists react with glee
In a joint press conference, the leaders of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which took 12.6 percent of the vote on 24September, said that they were happy that Merkel had been unable to forge an alliance.
“We think it’s good that Jamaica isn’t coming because it would have been a coalition of the status quo,” AfD parliamentary co-leader Alexander Gauland told reporters. “Ms Merkel has failed, and it’s time for her to go as chancellor.”
Gauland said that he expect his party to improve on its 24 September showing if it came to a new election.
The Left Party also called for a snap election, saying that it was the “logical democratic extension” of the failed coalition talks.